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Samsung Galaxy Tab first impressions

Last Tuesday, I received a Samsung Galaxy Tab (on Verizon Wireless). Physically, it’s as if someone took an iPad, turned it landscape, and cut it in half. It’s exactly the same size as the newest Kindle, but much thicker and heavier. Despite the noticeably smaller size, the Galaxy Tab still feels like it weighs about 2/3rds what the iPad weighs. It has a slight contour that makes it even thicker at the top and bottom. This actually makes it more holdable when it is being held in landscape mode (for things like playing video games, it’s great). Also, there is no smooth aluminum back like there is on the iPad. There’s a plastic back with a slight texture to it. I actually like all of this and find the Galaxy Tab to be easily handled with one hand as a result, whereas the iPad is a bit too big, bulky, and really needs a case to make it holdable. The Galaxy Tab, I’ve found, is the perfect size for slipping it into a coat pocket (or even the back pocket of my jeans). It’s also become my preferred gadget to pull out on the train to do some on-the-go browsing.

That being said, at times it feels staunchly like an oversized cell phone sans the phone. The Android operating system, despite being 2.2 on the device, feels very 1.0 when compared to iOS. I was surprised to find that the default browser on Android totally and completely sucks. You’d think that Google would have something approaching Google Chrome’s excellence available, but this default browser is definitively not it. I installed both Firefox and Dolphin HD, which both perform better than the default browser, but overall, no matter which browser I choose and no matter what speed connection I’m on, the browsing experience on the Tab feels sluggish when compared to the type of browsing I’ve come to expect on my iPad and iPhone.

That being said, there are definite advantages to this platform. I can view Flash again. I can also actually multitask! Not some faked multitasking like what is offered by iOS. Of course this means I have to be careful of what all I am running at the same time. I’ve already had one application get stuck in a loop in the background that started to suck my battery dry at an insane rate. I’ve also had multiple application crashes on the device.

There is no universal copy and paste that I can tell and that makes the device less useful for blogging than the iPad. Also, every full keyboard on it is abysmal. I’m getting used to using Swype, but it’s a learning curve I shouldn’t have to face, in my opinion. The result is that I use the Galaxy Tab in portrait mode more often than in landscape and thumb-type on its very cellphone-ish portrait keyboard.

The Tab doubles as a MiFi Mobile Hotspot to supply up to 5 simultaneously connected devices with Verizon 3G Internet, which is cool, but this connection is limited to the plan you’re on (either 1GB or 3GB per month, depending upon the plan you choose).

It also has two integrated cameras, just like the iPhone 4. Unfortunately, the front facing camera (the highest quality one) is only 3.2Megapixels, which is disappointing to say the least. It can record 720p video though, so that’s a plus.

The Android Market is horribly designed. It is near impossible to find anything useful there, even when you know exactly what you’re looking for. That being said, I have found a few good apps that I am enjoying using on the Tab. AIM and Skype both work nicely and run fully in the background thanks to multitasking. Twidroyd has become my Twitter client of choice on the device. NewsRob is the only RSS feed reader that integrates with Google Reader that I find that I like. It’s only made fully usable via using Android’s system wide sharing feature along with a Instapaper / Evernote app called EverPaper to archive items I want to read later. The Kindle app for Android works great, just like the iPad version, but with the Tab’s smaller form factor, I actually find myself using it. Pandora on the device is also as one would expect, except, it tends to crash on launch at times. Angry Birds is Angry Birds in 16:9 and with ads. I love the integrated notification system.

I love the way my Contacts, my Gmail, and my Google Calendars are integrated with the Gmail app and the Calendar app without any additional setup beyond turning on Google Sync. I also really like how fully integrated the email experience is with actual web-based Gmail. The only place email-wise where iOS currently has the upper-hand is with its unified mailbox for all accounts. On Android, I have to switch back and forth between whichever account I want to view, and it’s cumbersome.

There’s a lot more flexibility to do what you want with the Galaxy Tab than there is with the iPad. However, that flexibility comes at the cost of losing a polished, unified interface across all applications. Also, unlike the iPad where there is a clear line between iPhone apps and apps designed for the iPad, there is no clear set of apps designed specifically for this 7-inch machine. Most apps are apps designed for mobile phones running Android. With no killer app for the device, there is no “wow” to it.

The Galaxy Tab is a cool device, but it’s running an operating system that is still not ready for the mass market. It’s great for people who are technically savvy and used to spending hours tweaking and configuring their devices to their likings, but for the average consumer, it will most likely be too confusing and frustrating to be used to its fullest potential.

These are just my first impressions, though, so lets soak in this gadget a bit and see how these thoughts change over time. I think this device has the potential to be a few software updates away from being a real iPad competitor. As is, just like the iPad was the tablet device that I didn’t know I needed between my iPhone and my laptop, the Samsung Galaxy Tab is the mini-tablet that I didn’t know I wanted between my iPad and my iPhone. I really do like it. But it makes me really see the value in (and makes me want) a 7-inch iPad.